Four of the five people killed Wednesday in a sightseeing helicopter crash on Kaua`i have been identified. Denver TV station KUSA reported today that two area residents, Jeff and Monica Peterson, both 33, died in the crash. It also named 53-year-old Teresa M. Wadiak of Virginia. The pilot had previously been identified as Mark Lundgren, 44, of Kalaheo. The body of the fifth victim was only recovered this morning from the crash site on the slopes of Mount Waialeale.
Lundgren is survived by his wife, Diane, and three adult sons. Monica Peterson was described by KUSA as a fashion designer.
The helicopter, a four-passenger Bell 206BII Jet Ranger, was operated by Jack Harter Helicopters, which boasted a perfect safety record up until the crash. The company said Lundgren had been flying for the company since 1995.
The Associated Press reported that Lundgren last contacted air traffic controllers at around 9 a.m., when he reported leaving Waialeale Crater. The wreckage was spotted by another tour company’s helicopter pilot at around noon, at an elevation of 4,000 feet.
Steep terrain and unpredictable weather hampered rescue efforts. According to Kauai County spokesperson Cyndi Ozaki, one of the victims survived the crash and was able to speak to two rescue workers who were able to reach the crash site Wednesday afternoon. She died before she could be airlifted out.
It took several attempts over nearly two days before all the bodies were recovered.
An investigation into the cause of the crash is underway.
Mount Waialeale is the most prominent geological feature on Kaua`i, the oldest in the island chain. It stands 5,200 feet high, and is described as one of the wettest places in the world, receiving over 400 inches of rain a year. Much of its dramatic cliffs and deep valleys can only be seen from the air.
According to the Jack Harter Helicopters website, the company obtained a special exemption from FAA rules governing tour flights that allowed it to fly as low as 500 feet above the ground. “This is the lowest flight level allowed for helicopter tours in Hawaii,” the site states.